Temporal variations in the abundance and composition of biofilm communities colonizing drinking water distribution pipes

John J. Kelly, Nicole Minalt, Alessandro Culotti, Marsha Pryor, Aaron Packman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Pipes that transport drinking water through municipal drinking water distribution systems (DWDS) are challenging habitats for microorganisms. Distribution networks are dark, oligotrophic and contain disinfectants; yet microbes frequently form biofilms attached to interior surfaces of DWDS pipes. Relatively little is known about the species composition and ecology of these biofilms due to challenges associated with sample acquisition from actual DWDS. We report the analysis of biofilms from five pipe samples collected from the same region of a DWDS in Florida, USA, over an 18 month period between February 2011 and August 2012. The bacterial abundance and composition of biofilm communities within the pipes were analyzed by heterotrophic plate counts and tag pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes, respectively. Bacterial numbers varied significantly based on sampling date and were positively correlated with water temperature and the concentration of nitrate. However, there was no significant relationship between the concentration of disinfectant in the drinking water (monochloramine) and the abundance of bacteria within the biofilms. Pyrosequencing analysis identified a total of 677 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) (3% distance) within the biofilms but indicated that community diversity was low and varied between sampling dates. Biofilms were dominated by a few taxa, specifically Methylomonas, Acinetobacter, Mycobacterium, and Xanthomonadaceae, and the dominant taxa within the biofilms varied dramatically between sampling times. The drinking water characteristics most strongly correlated with bacterial community composition were concentrations of nitrate, ammonium, total chlorine and monochloramine, as well as alkalinity and hardness. Biofilms from the sampling date with the highest nitrate concentration were the most abundant and diverse and were dominated by Acinetobacter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere98542
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 23 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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